Karen Wyle is one of the most prolific and certainly the most versatile author I’ve ever met. She has written everything from science fiction to children’s picture books. Because I love historical novels, Karen’s Cowbird Creek series is a special favorite of mine, and I wanted to ask her about these books
– Introduce us to your Cowbird Creek series.
It’s set in late 19th century Nebraska, in the fictional small town of Cowbird Creek. Each novel focuses on a Cowbird Creek resident. While the books adhere to the basics of the historical romance genre, they also deal with sociopolitical issues such as discrimination against the Chinese, the treatment of prostitution and the lives of prostitutes, sexual harassment, and prejudice against Catholic immigrants. The primary characters tend to have past traumas and/or current life challenges to overcome. (The books fall into the subgenre of “sweet” or “closed door” romance, rather than steamy.)
– What inspired the Cowbird series?
It bubbled up from my subconscious, one of the two sources of my ideas for fiction. (The other source: headlines, which I often read through a science fiction lens and extrapolate into possible future trends.) The POV character in the first book, Joshua Gibbs, was originally going to be a detective. He ended up a doctor. I didn’t realize at first that the first book would lead to a series, but as I read more historical and other romance, I realized how neatly a series could spring from the continued use of one locale.
– If you could spend a day with one of your Cowbird Creek characters, who would it be and what would you do?
That’s a tough one. I’d love to have Clara Brook, later Clara Gibbs, as a friend, but she would be a slightly intimidating person to meet. If I could make it past my initial shyness, I’d like to spend a day chatting with her as she works in her garden, and sharing an easily prepared lunch. Joshua is a thoroughly decent person, what Jews would call a “mensch” (literally, “man” or “human being”), but he’d have to be taking a day off from doctoring people.
– Research is important for historical novels. What kind of research did you do?
What didn’t I do! (All right, I didn’t travel to Nebraska, nor to the 19th century. I’ve been relieved that, based on what reviews say, I managed fairly well without doing either.) I found archives of Nebraska newspapers from the period. I did online research, starting with good old Google and following where it led. I contacted various libraries, historical societies, and Nebraska government officials and talked to the enormously helpful people who worked there. I pumped friends for pertinent information about railroads and quilting. I dug up customs and labor statistics from the time in order to check on whether, e.g., commercial hair dyes would have been available. On occasion, I looked to preexisting fiction: for example, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy let me know what produce one of my main characters would be loading in a wagon in early spring. To avoid anachronistic language usage, I went back again and again to Google Ngram Viewer and Online Etymological Dictionary. . . . If you pick up one of the Cowbird Creek books and look in the back, you’ll find lists of sources (longer in the later books) in the Acknowledgments section.
– What do you like best about the writing process? What do you like least?
I love hearing that one of my books has moved a reader, or helped a reader get through or cope with a difficult time. I naturally enjoy reading favorable reviews. It also remains a heady pleasure to hold a new book for the first time. And after being intimidated at the very thought of researching historical fiction, I found out I enjoyed it mightily.
What I like least, hands down, is promoting my books – or more precisely, marketing them. I enjoy talking about what I write (or writing about it), but I have no great skill at constructing marketing campaigns, writing ad copy, fine-tuning advertising or media campaigns, recruiting launch teams, setting up events, et cetera.
– What intrigues you the most about the setting of the Cowbird series?
As an American, I find it fascinating to see how my country sprang from, remains similar to, and differs from that earlier era in its history. It’s also fascinating, if at times appalling, to see what people took for granted in the way of daily labor, inconvenience, and risk.
– How do you find the balance between historical fact and fiction in your writing?
I depart as little as I possibly can from historical fact. However, where sources conflict, or I can’t find any, I go with what best serves the story. For example, in What Heals the Heart, I wanted to feature two similar decks of playing cards with designs in different colors. My sources differed as to when such cards first became available, so I used the most convenient date. I also allowed a porter to provide a handy solution to the lack of a kitchen or dining car on the train, despite not being able to find any evidence that this solution was actually used. My Author’s Notes give more examples.
I’ve tried to make the various characters’ speech and writing true to their level of education and role in society, as well as to the time – but I did fudge occasionally in the direction of fewer grammatical and spelling errors in order to keep the text more readable.
How to find out more about this author Wyle’s Cowbird Creek series – to date, What Heals the Heart, What Frees the Heart, and What Shows the Heart – may be found for Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BR1WXH5 and in Kindle Unlimited. The paperback editions are available from Amazon at that same link, and from various other online retailers including Barnes & Noble. If you’d like to get monthly updates about this series and Wyle’s other books – which, as noted, range from various subgenres of science fiction and fantasy to nonfiction to picture books – you can sign up for her newsletter at https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/k9z1m0. You can also follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KarenAWyle , on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/KarenAWyle, on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/karenawyle/, and on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/kawyle